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The One & Only(10)

By:Emily Giffin



“No. Stay. I insist,” Lucy said, guiding Miller into the chair across from her. “We were actually just talking about you. And your relationship. With Shea.”

“Lucy,” I said in my harshest tone.

This time, Miller took the bait. “Right on,” he said, grinning.

“So, Miller, do you think you and Shea are compatible?” Lucy asked.

“Hot seat, bro,” Lawton said. “Look out!”

Miller reached for my hand, and I reluctantly gave it to him. “Yeah,” he said. “We go perfect together.”

“Perfectly,” I said under my breath.

“Perfect, huh?” Lucy said. “And why do you say that?”

“Well, for one, we both love football,” Miller said. “Right, Coach?”

Coach Carr raised one fist in the air.

Lucy crossed her arms. “Well, that means Shea would be good with just about any man in the state of Texas. Except Neil, who isn’t totally obsessed.”

I had always maintained that it was one of the things Lucy liked most about her husband. He wasn’t the type to spend his days in front of the television watching games. Still, the comment seemed vaguely emasculating, at least in the company of his coaching legend father-in-law, and Neil said, “Hey, now. I like football. I love football.”

“It’s more than football,” Miller said. “She’s good for me. She makes me better.”

“And what do you do for her?” Lucy asked, unmoved.

My mother was literally on the edge of her seat, waiting.

“Well. I make her laugh.”

I let out a nervous giggle, and Miller pointed at me and said, “See?”

“It’s late,” I said, standing and gesturing to Miller. “Where’s your jacket? I’ll get it.”

He pointed down the hall, toward the master bedroom. “It’s back there on the bed,” he said.

I hesitated, but it was really too late to retract my offer, so I kept going, right past Coach. When I walked into the room, I spotted Miller’s jacket strewn on Coach Carr’s side of the bed, closer to the window, which I only knew based on the fact that Mrs. Carr had spent much of her last few weeks on the side nearest the bathroom. A wave of sick grief washed over me as I quickly walked to the foot of the bed and reached out to scoop up the jacket. Then I marched back to the kitchen and announced to Miller that now it really was time to go.





Three





February made me shiver. The line from Don McLean’s “American Pie” replayed in my head that whole month, a grim soundtrack on an endless loop. It had always been one of Coach Carr’s favorite songs, but I never much cared for it, partly because of its tendency to stick with you long after you wanted to be rid of it, and also because it was just so depressing, all that talk about widowed brides and Satan laughing and dirges in the dark. Now it also reminded me of our collective grief over Mrs. Carr’s death, along with a host of other emotions nagging at me.

For one, I felt guilty. Guilt for not being as sad as Lucy, my mom, and Coach. Guilt for being able to go a stretch of hours without thinking about Mrs. Carr at all. In my most selfish moments, I even felt impatient, longing for things to return to normal. I found myself praying for spring to come quickly to Texas, believing that the change of seasons would help, along with the start of spring practices held every March and all the hope that came with the annual rebirth of our team. In other words, football when we needed it most. With a solid previous season, most of our starters returning, and the addition of Reggie Rhodes and a great recruiting class, there was little doubt in anyone’s mind that we were going to be good this year. Really good and potentially great. It would be bittersweet without Mrs. Carr to share it, but bittersweet was better than plain bitter.

But football could only distract me from the grief and the guilt so much, and in the aftermath of Mrs. Carr’s death, I found myself reflecting on my own life in a way that I had previously avoided. I couldn’t fight the knot of dissatisfaction with the status quo, all the things that had always felt comfortable, good enough. My unexceptional relationship with Miller. My crappy car and apartment, which I refused to see as measuring sticks of anyone’s life, let alone my own, but clearly more appropriate for a girl in her twenties than for a woman approaching her mid-thirties. At least I had a decent wardrobe, clothes all chosen by Lucy and purchased at a deep discount from her shop, but most hung in my closet with no occasion to wear them. They were way too nice for my job at Walker—which was something else I started to think about. I was the assistant sports information director, which meant I worked behind the scenes in the athletic department, attending endless games and matches, recording stats, and reporting them to the media. It was the only real job I’d ever had since my student intern days working in the same office, and the one thing I had always taken pride in—really the sole source of my identity. But suddenly even the job I loved seemed small and unimportant, especially all the parts that didn’t involve football. I knew that it was a reach to say I was following my passion—an argument I tried to make to justify my meager salary. Yes, football was my passion, and Walker my home, but deep down I knew that I was there because it felt safe and easy—not because it was exactly right.

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